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Sunday, September 15 • 3:01pm - 3:20pm
“Selfies and Avatars for Change”

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In recent years, the near-ubiquitous connectivity of social networks and the latest portable and internet-enabled technological systems that store, organize, and share information have provided global citizens with tools that allow visual recording, remixing, and sharing of personal and collective experiences. These tools also facilitate instant interaction and interconnection with others across the globe. As the participatory and instantaneous qualities of these new technologies are expediting the process of documentation and dissemination of observations and thoughts, citizens are turning into what new media theorist Howard Rheingold refers to as “smart mobs” composed of people who quickly communicate, organize, and mobilize in relation to the events surrounding them. 

Given the visibility, popularity, and the exchange volume of eyewitness mobile photographs, selfies, and political Internet memes, it appears that digital images, coupled with social media technologies, are reconstructing the extent of public awareness and action against sociopolitical affairs worldwide. Media studies scholars have extensively written about the impact of media and communication technologies on human consciousness and culture. For instance, analyzing the change of scale and pace that print and electronic media introduced into human affairs, Marshall McLuhan suggests that every medium restructures society not by virtue of the content it transmits, but by the degree to which it carries that content across time and space (McLuhan 2003). As social media technology fosters an instantaneous image-base communication among the public, the sociopolitical restructuring of our time seems to be happening at a larger scale and a faster momentum.

The new paradigm in our visual culture, saturated with digital, networked images, perhaps best represented itself during the major social uprisings of the twenty-first century including the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement. Images of police officer John Pike casually shooting a pepper spray onto a group of seated student protesters or images of Neda Agha-Soltan brutally murdered on the sidewalks in the aftermath of the Iranian presidential election in 2009 impacted public conversations and collective actions around such important sociopolitical events. By registering, reordering, and instantly revealing personal observations and opinions, digital images continue to reconfigure the viewers’ personal and collective reactions to the events depicted. Similarly, the proliferation and near-instantaneity of image-based “I am X” campaigns are offering global citizens with the opportunity to react and intervene with global affairs as they happen. 

As images are gradually advancing beyond testimonial documentation and into tools for visual, political expression, the function, impact, and politics of the twenty-first century image, particularly its effects on social and political matters, need to be explored further. Thus this paper examines recent mage-based online campaigns for social change to shed light on the power of the digital networked image on human affairs.

avatar for mona kasra

mona kasra

Doctoral Candidate, University of Texas - Dallas
artist . educator . PhD candidate in Arts & Tech . researching social media around photography, gender, & politics . SIGGRAPH11 Art Gallery Chair

Sunday September 15, 2013 3:01pm - 3:20pm EDT
ROWE 1020

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